Teens with ADHD

They Should Teach This Stuff In High School

“Do or do not; there is no try.” And 7 more mantras for any teen with ADHD who’s trying to figure out where to go next, how to follow a passion, who to ask for help, and what past mistakes they can avoid by making better decisions.

Puzzle piece with question mark, asking about ADHD
Puzzle piece with question mark, asking about ADHD
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When Bad — or Good — Habits Take Root

One of the most important phases in the life of a young adult with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) happens between the ages of 16 and 24. It's when you're establishing your character, career path, substance-use patterns, relationships, and independence — all while battling an onslaught of hormones. While you're never too young or too old to fight bad habits, it's easier to avoid them altogether during your teens and twenties. Of course, that takes deliberate planning — maybe not one of your strong points.

A teen girl with a flower in her hair thinking about some advice she received recently
A girl with a flower in her hair smiling.
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3 Types of Young Adult ADHD

There are three main character types found in young adults with ADHD — each with its own benefits and challenges:

  • Optimistic
  • Terrified
  • Lost

What's true for all three: Anxiety and productivity (which have a curvilinear relationship) are out of whack. Too much or too little anxiety, for example, will hamper your productivity and ability to function. You need to worry just the right amount, and many teens with ADHD don't know how.

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Optimistic young adults with ADHD do not experience enough anxiety or worry. They just want to get out there, parent-free, and live their life. Independence is great, but problems arise when they have unrealistic expectations about finances and responsibilities. They're very excited about freedom and what they don't fully understand is that freedom isn't free; it's really kind of expensive.

[Free Download: Transform Your Teen's Apathy Into Engagement]

A teen getting bullied and wondering what advice she should follow
Student being bullied by a group of students
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Terrified Teens

Terrified teens suffer so much anxiety that they become paralyzed and unproductive. They wonder, even as young as age 12, how they'll succeed or get into college if they perform badly on one test. These young adults with ADHD need to feel reassured and comforted; they need to know that if they follow a logical plan with predictable steps, they will pass the seventh grade and move on to the next challenge in due time.

A girl looking sad and wondering about advice for depressed teens
sad girl
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Lost Ones

Lost teens with ADHD don’t have necessarily have anxiety, but they also don't have energy or a positive view on life. They might easily shut down when they feel depressed or defeated. Parents often struggle with telling them to buck up or comforting them out of their rut. The best strategy is to gently, repeatedly remind them what needs to be done and tell them you believe they can do it.

A girl reading an advice book for teens
Reading girl
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The Solution Is Hope

Hope has two parts: The way (or the plan to reach a goal) and the will (the belief in yourself to get there). Young adults with ADHD just need a slightly different plan than do their neurotypical peers. Remaining hopeful while setting realistic goals and prioritizing ways to get there — these are all exceedingly difficult tasks for teens with ADHD. The following strategies will help, if you make them your mantra.

Two teens discussing good advice they have received
Friends drinking coffee and talking together
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The Case for Peer Mentors

A peer mentor can help young adults with ADHD figure out what success looks like. Mentors can listen to your ideas and let you know if they’re valid or need realistic refinement. Mentors are great at delivering this message because they have your teen's best interests at heart, they’re benevolent, and your teen learns to trust that they are seeing things around the corner they haven’t glimpsed yet.

[Free Download: Inside Your Teen’s ADHD Mind]

"Time to Set Goals" written on a clock, good advice for teens
Time to Set Goals
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Evaluating Goals

Once you have a goal in mind, the next step is assessing whether it's attainable: “Is this going to work?” For example, if a student is just graduating and wants to move to a big city, he should be able to answer the questions, "What kind of job do you need to afford it?" "Can you wait until graduation to start earning money, or do you need to get a job now?" Mentors can help suss out these answers.

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Cost/Benefit Analysis

Make a list of pros and cons and then give each a numerical weight. If you’re talking about college, living in the dorm might have a cost of -4, while the meeting new people might get it a +5. Breathing room from parents can be a high +, but not being able to study surrounded by people should earn negative points. Once you lay it all out, the numbers will add up in one direction or the other. They rarely lie.

Happy face and sad face, positive thinking advice for teens
Positive Feedback Simile face icon
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Make Authentic Choices

To be authentic, choices must be made against a valid counter-choice. For example, young adults shouldn’t choose college because their parents say so. To feel in control, they should sit down, look at all of the reasonable options, and then decide Yes or No to each.

Young woman doing yoga, since physical activity is common advice for teens
Young woman sitting on grass doing yoga
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Don't Just Try

Yoda said it best when he said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” When you eliminate “trying” or “wanting” and replace it with actions, you get a lot more done and make better decisions. It’s easier to decide on next steps when you’re thinking, “I will do it,” or “I won’t do it.”

A teen girl writing in her journal about advice she has received
young female student doing her homework
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Know Your Limits

Young adults with ADHD should be extra careful not to take on too many things — hours at work, courses at college, party invitations or video game time. Too much is too much — even if everything is a positive choice. When you know your limits, you can start to push them (a little at first), to see if you can achieve more than you first thought possible. The key is not pushing so far that you can’t do anything at all.

Teen girl laying on grass, pondering advice she has received
student laying on grass
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Pace Yourself

Many of us struggle with learning how to schedule down-time without losing sight of the final goal. When you take a break, do something that has a limited time span, like reading five pages in a book before you get back to work. Don’t fall down the hole of video games. Or, try setting short-term objectives, like getting out of bed on time, and meet that every day. If you climb out from under the covers when your alarm goes off, reward yourself and build from there.

Group of students sitting in the library reading advice books for teens
Group of college students
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Share Successes

Whenever you have a small victory, make sure to sit down and take note. You deserve it! Take a picture, tweet about it to your friends. Make sure to sing your own praises because it’s not a small task you’ve accomplished. Make sure you celebrate it, commemorate it, so it will drive you on to your next success.

[Nitty-Gritty Advice from Teens with ADHD]

Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Specialist Panel.